independent

Thursday 24 April 2014

Richard Curran: Dublin is on a winning streak

As the victorious Dublin Senior Football Team basked in the sunshine of Merrion Square with the Sam Maguire on Monday evening, it seemed the city was really on a roll.

And this may be true in more ways than one. Dublin has been getting a much higher proportion of inward investment than other parts of the country during the recession. It always got more, but the gap appears to be widening between the capital and other counties.

In a written Dail reply to a question from Fianna Fail’s Dara Calleary, Enterprise minister Richard Bruton said that Dublin accounted for 55pc or 152 of all visits from potential foreign direct investors this year. This figure is pretty consistent with the percentage of investment projects the capital has been winning in the last few years.

When Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick are taken out, other counties are doing relatively poorly in the shake-out of FDI. County Longford was the only county not to attract any overseas investor visit so far this year and it got none last year either.

Counties to receive just one visit this year were Carlow, Kildare, Kerry, Leitrim, Meath, Monaghan, Offaly, Wexford and Wicklow. Mayo, Cavan, Kilkenny, Laois and Louth had just two visits each.

What is most striking about this is the lack of discernible pattern, other than the extraordinary performance of the capital. Why do foreign investors pick certain regions?

In Dublin’s case it is obvious. It has a bigger labour pool, better infrastructure, including proximity to the airport and other necessary business infrastructure around it, like accountants, lawyers etc.

Some executives are attracted to the lifestyle that certain areas can bring and it becomes a more subjective and intangible, but very real factor also. So, why would Kerry not do better? It has an airport, wonderful scenery, great cultural life and activities. Border counties qualify for better grants in some circumstances and this is partially why Louth has done quite well in recent years. It qualifies for full grants and with the M1 motorway, it is not far from the population centre of Dublin and the airport. Yet it hasn’t got much of a flow of visits.

Kilkenny is a relatively wealthy part of the country from a farming and tourism point of view, with a great city and a great road to Dublin. Why so few visits?

IDA Ireland cannot force executives to go to certain places. However, its teams can provide the menu of options available and perhaps there is scope for encouraging greater distribution in that way. When it is a toss-up between certain places, foreign executives can ask about the availability of private schools. They want their children getting a certain kind of education.

These are all factors. But there may also be a case for counties themselves to up their own game in selling what they have.

If executives from California, Canada, Bermuda or Baltimore have never heard of the place, it isn’t a great start.

Dublin will continue to do well. Centres with existing scale, like Cork, Galway and Limerick should also get a reasonable slice of the action. Waterford had more visits (13) than Galway (12) so far this year, yet in recent years it has not landed many projects. Having a track record certainly helps, but it’s the old chicken and egg situation of how do you get started to get that track record in the first place?

The Dublin vs the rest of the country gap will only get wider. It is a worrying trend that can have long term social and economic consequences for some areas. But regions shouldn’t automatically look to government or IDA Ireland alone to fix those problems. They have to ask what they can do.

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